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Highway 17: Median coalition hits dead end with road committee

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The reason opposition is growing to a plan to remove the paved median from Highway 17 through a portion of the Pawleys Island business district is that details of the project have emerged only after the end of the public comment period last year, according to one of the leading opponents.

Steve Goggans, owner of SGA Architecture, last week asked the intergovernmental group that approves road projects for federal funding to recommend that Georgetown County Council create a task force to review the project. He is one of the organizers of the Citizens Coalition for Ocean Highway.

The Grand Strand Area Transportation Study Policy Committee is comprised of elected officials in Georgetown and Horry counties. It maintains a regional transportation plan with projects proposed by the state and local governments. Approval of those projects by the committee is required for them to receive federal funding.

The $3.75 million project will replace the paved median on 1.9 miles of Highway 17 from Baskervill Drive to Waverly Road with a 6-inch-high “curb and gutter” median. There will be breaks to allow left turns and U-turns, including two at new traffic signals proposed for the Pawleys Island Post Office and the Hotel Drive/Jetty Drive intersection.

Goggans told the policy committee at a meeting last week that Pawleys Island is the only place on Highway 17 in South Carolina where this sort of median has been proposed. The coalition has twice asked County Council to consider a resolution to form a task force. The council has not placed the issue on its agenda.

The coalition doesn’t want to stop the project, just change it, Goggans told the committee. It hired a traffic engineer who proposed three alternatives to modify the plan developed by the state Department of Transportation. “These designs have been shunned,” he said.

State Rep. Nelson Hardwick of Surfside Beach, who chairs the policy committee, asked if those were presented during the public hearings.

“We were late,” Goggans said. But he explained that coalition members have met with county and state officials over much of the last year. “We tried to work cooperatively,” he said. “Now we’re told we’re too late.”

He also said the hearings in early 2012 only offered the public a choice on the position of additional traffic lights. “Now we know the details,” he said. “We want to make GSATS aware that there is an issue down there.”

The committee took no action on Goggans’ request.

Harwick said afterward he didn’t see anything wrong with the current median configuration. “I like it the way it is,” he said.

He said he had “heard rumbling” about the median project but didn’t think it appropriate for the transportation study committee to ask for a review. “If County Council requested it, it would be different,” Hardwick said. “Those are the people they elect.”

Council Member Jerry Oakley, who represents Georgetown County on the transportation committee, said the coalition’s alternatives have never been “formally proposed” to the council. And even if they had been, “we can make a suggestion, sure. [DOT] is not obliged to accept it.”

Goggans wasn’t surprised by the response from the transportation committee. “People think they’re moving it right on through,” he said.

The citizens coalition is “stepping back and taking stock,” he said. However, it might present copies of the information it compiled for showing at a community meeting last month to County Council members. None attended the meeting, Goggans noted.

Deal needed for light

If there is going to be a new traffic signal at Hotel Drive as part of the Highway 17 median project Georgetown County will first have to acquire that road.

Hotel Drive remains a private street. That was an oversight, according to Boyd Johnson, the county planning director. It was supposed to become a county road as part of the approval of the Fresh Market development.

If the county can’t get title to the road, the traffic signal will move north to Parkersville Road. DOT won’t install a light at a private road.

“We’re working on that right now,” Johnson said.

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